Heroin has been on the rise in every way possible. Abuse of prescription opiates, overdoses, and heroin trafficking have all seen dramatic, sharp increases. Growing concern has pushed into action the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder who has acknowledged the epidemic of heroin overdoses and he has made big plans to back the drug that can cure them. His agency has already begun setting changes in motion for more aggressive ways to keep those who are at risk alive and better equip those who can help the users.
17 states plus the District of Columbia are already breaking in newly amended laws that will allow more access to naloxone. Holder said the drug, when used in emergency situations, has reversed over 10,000 overdoses. Those who tune in to Breaking Bad may recall the dramatic exit of Jane, Jesse’s season two girlfriend. The show portrayed asphyxiation from her throat becoming clogged which is a real concern if they are attended to properly. However, an overdose of heroin is when the drug’s effect on the nervous system shuts down the body completely.
As a depressant, heroin slows both heart rate, to the point of blue lips even cold fingertips, and breathing, making breaths shallow. The victim can also become disoriented when the brain lacks oxygen which could cause lasting brain damage. Naloxone chemically blocks the receptors that accept and process heroin, making the opioid unable to act upon the body for the drug’s half life of just over an hour.
New England’s local politicians may have begun the movement. Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont stated his interest in higher funding to assist addicts enrolling in treatment who are currently spending too much time on waiting lists. A $3 million budget was then proposed by Governor Paul LePage for Maine, which would enlist 14 new drug enforcement agents.
New England is not the only region taking action. Police and fire departments nationwide have been called to train with naloxone, being educated about the cure, and equipping the emergency responders with the the drug for when they encounter a heroin overdose. The first to request this reform was the Obama administration, then Holder, and now the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
These steps forward have been prompted by the 2006-2010 increase in overdoses by 45 percent. U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency said those numbers are rising. Meaning over 3,038 are predicted to die this year from heroin alone.
The increasing heroin overdoses correspond to the rise of painkillers, which are a similar drug in the opioid family, and people can build a tolerance to their effects over time, then begin abusing them. In 2006 over 16,000 lives were taken this way. Many who survived those odds surpassed their doctors, and moved to the much cheaper option, which is heroin.
Traffickers in Mexico, well tuned into the laws of supply and demand, have increased the amount being smuggled into the states. 320 percent more heroin was seized in 2013 than 2008, along the US-Mexico border. That amount is only what could be found, the amount still reaching the users was not mentioned.
Holder said the DEA will be focused on regions where they are needed most. Northern Ohio will certainly be one, as they have been witnessing the epidemic first-hand. The area had previously had issues. However, recently heroin has claiming four times as many lives as was previously reported.
The U.S. Attorney General is not stopping at just the officials. Battling the heroin addiction along side them will be those who can advocate for the knowledge needed, and each will be educated about naloxone and curing the drug epidemic. Among this group will be physicians, teachers, and community leaders across the U.S. who will assist in sharing knowledge of substance abuse education, prevention, and treatment.
By: Whitney Hudson